Le Mans 1985: Porsche’s conservation run
A blend of tactics, skill and ingenuity meant that Porsche’s underdogs took on the mighty works team, and won by seven laps. How?
By Andy Hallbery
The 1985 Le Mans was essentially works Porsche verses privateer Porsche versus the rules. In what was perhaps the first nod towards motorsport ‘going green’, the World Endurance Championship had instigated regulations that limited the amount of fuel used.
Naturally the favourites were the three works Rothmans Porsche 962s, two of which duly swept the front row for the French classic. Lancia, running the gorgeous LC2, focused on the works Porsches – as did most observers. Few looked to the older private 956s to provide a shock.
That, however, was discounting the shrewd and canny Reinhold Joest, running the NewMan Porsche #7 with Klaus Ludwig, Paolo Barilla and ‘John Winter’ driving. They had a plan, built around speed, smoothness and cunning engineering, and when they and the Richard Lloyd Racing – with the all British crew of Jonathan Palmer, James Weaver and Lloyd himself – agreed to slipstream each other to save fuel, they quickly pulled ahead. The Davids were taking on the Goliaths.
Ludwig’s experience and smooth skills helped, the German using as few gears as possible, and reducing the boost. “It was soon clear that we would have no consumption worries,” remembers Ludwig. “Looking outside the car, it may have looked like an easy drive, but if you’d been in the car with me you’d have realised that was far from the truth!
“I was constantly altering the boost pressure, braking as late as possible, accelerating slowly – and all the time the car was set up with minimum downforce… I can assure you it was not as it appeared!”
Behind, everyone considered Ludwig and Palmer to be playing a ‘foolish’ speed game that could not last 24 hours, with no idea of the many tactics and fuel-saving measures on the NewMan car. An electrical problem halted Palmer’s Lloyd car for three laps after nine hours on track.
The Ludwig car continued untroubled recording fuel mileage numbers of 40 litres per 100kms, with their rivals anywhere between 42-50! At the finish the NewMan Joest Porsche still had some 200-plus litres of fuel left, just to rub salt in the wounds.
Cracks appeared in the works Rothmans armour as they tried to keep up, all three suffering problems at some point during the race as the realisiation that this was the NewMan car’s race pace, and it was real. By the end of the grueling Le Mans 24 Hours it was the two privateers first and second, and the first of the Rothmans cars, seven laps down.
Smart driving and fuel economy is how Joest scored Porsche’s 10th win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Special thanks to Dale Kistemaker of poeticsofspeed.com